Saturday, January 30, 2016

All the Things I Should be Doing

A lot of them.  Now.

Tomorrow, I'm going with a friend on a bit of a road trip to see a play.  It's not a huge road trip, just over to the big city, but a play!  By a professional company!

We're going to have lunch ahead, then the matinee, so we'll leave in the morning, and probably not get back until late afternoon.  And that means, I have to be totally prepared for Monday by tomorrow morning.

I really should get with it.


Yesterday, during our department meeting, we split off into our teaching areas and talked about some stuff amongst ourselves.  We were asked to try to accomplish about four things, and we pretty much did.  One of them, we totally finished, when we hadn't really expected to.  So that was good.

I'm reminded again of how much good work my colleagues do, and how much I like having them as colleagues.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Data Entry

It seems like there's a lot of stuff these days that faculty do that we didn't used to do.  For example, instead of emailing an admin assistant our list of books for ordering, we do the data entry into the bookstore thingy (whatever that thingy is, who knows).

It's cheaper for the university, I guess, because we faculty folks just add the extra 15-30 minutes to our work and our pay doesn't change, but the admin assistant has been moved out of our department to elsewhere (a good promotion for her, for sure) and the new person doesn't get nearly as many hours.

Was there ever a time when faculty didn't type or produce their own syllabi?  (What about before typewriters?  Where there even syllabi?  I wonder how things got communicated without easily replicated handouts?  Verbally?)

Or assignments?  I know a friend from grad school who'd gone to Oxbridge, who'd never had to type his essays there.  Do they now, or do they still handwrite them?  (In my own undergrad experience, we were expected to type everything but exams or math homework, and that was 5+ years before I went to grad school and met that friend, but who knows.)

Anyway, it seems like there's all sorts of stuff where at one point we faculty folks would hand in a handwritten form, and then someone else would do whatever was done, and that would be it.  So, for example, at one point, I could hand in my receipts and a hand written travel form, and then a month or two later, there would be a check in an envelop in my box.  Now I have to enter all sorts of information in a form before I can buy tickets, then enter everything into a different form after I buy tickets but before I travel, and then enter everything into a still different form and then send in all my receipts separately to get reimbursed.  (Yes, we have an especially inefficient system, it seems.)


Classes started today.  My Shakespeare students laughed generously at my jokes.  My first year writing students mostly contributed when I asked.  And for some reason, I ended up writing a time line of Western European history from 300 BCE to 2000 on the board in my seminar.  (I was trying to get them to see what the Renaissance thought it was the rebirth of, so that they can understand what a "Renaissance man" was, so that they can understand how Henry Louis Gates is using a quotation from an essay that argues against the sorts of diversity Gates supports/ed in MLA conferences.  So now my students at least know that Rome was sacked and that Petrarch had something to do with the Renaissance in that massively oversimplified way that trying to cover two thousand plus years of history in 15 minutes will do.)

Altogether, this was a very good day in ways that had to do with classes, with colleagues, and with pretty much everything.  And now it's time to go home and recharge!

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Writing Assignment

I'm asking my senior seminar students to write short "keyword" essays in which they read a piece of theory or criticism and then write about a key word in the reading, explaining how the author is using it in the argument, and then responding shortly.  I'm envisioning these as a page or two.

So today I wrote one for the reading assignment I emailed them all for the first day.  (Yes, I've become THAT professor).  It took just under an hour, and I'm pretty happy.

When I was first starting a certificate in teaching composition (way back before my phud program), one of the things they really suggested was that instructors try to use the instructions for an assignment to write the assignment.  It's a GREAT practice, but I don't usually do it because it also takes a lot of time.  But this time, I want to get a good start on this reading in the first class meeting, and I want to give them an example (because the last time, which was also the first time, I did the assignment, I wasn't always happy with the work they turned in) so that they'll have a better idea of my expectations.

Now that's done, and I'm going to have lunch and go snowshoing with some friends, because that's what friends are for!

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Almost Ready

I spent much of the afternoon at work today, getting ready for the new semester.  When I started, my list felt overwhelming, but it pretty much all got done.

In my seminar, we're starting with one theoretical reading (by Henry Louis Gates, Jr.), and then reading the plays fairly quickly, and then reading some more theory, and then revisiting the plays with criticism and early modern stuff (a captivity narrative and such).  I'm excited, and also a tad worried.  But our students are usually cooperative and helpful, so that's good.

I didn't finish everything, because our departmental scanner seems to be down, and the campus system thing to get a list of students in a class didn't seem to work (you email a specific list address, and then put your class information in the subject line, and voila, moments later you get a text list of students names alphabetically, which you can cut and paste into another document very easily.  Except not today.)

Last evening, we had a retirement party for three colleagues, two men and a woman.  The men were both long time, full prof types, the woman an adjunct.  The men were at the party, the woman wasn't (there was a reason for that, and it wasn't a bad reason).  Anyway, we brought food, the chair said a few words, and then a couple men she'd asked to speak spoke, and then another man spoke because he wanted to, and then the two retiring men spoke.  So, yeah, all men.

The one who wanted to speak always wants to speak.  He just does.

It was okay, and all, but really pointed up the ways that the good old boys are still good old boys, except we don't even call them out on it.

One of the men I truly will miss.  He's a fine poet, and we would talk about poetry.  There are few of us here who seem to like poetry much.

The other became an administrator just as I joined the department, so I've never really felt like he was part of my department, if that makes sense.

A couple of days ago, I invited my literature colleagues to get together at my house for casual chat and snacks.  Five folks came, and we talked for a couple hours, and it was really great.  It reminds me how much I like my colleagues, how smart and hard-working they are, how creative as teachers, and how willing to share.

I have a couple more things to do for class on Monday, but I'm at the point where everything looks much more do-able.  Thank dog.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

A Conversation with a Friend

I was chatting with a friend about a mutual acquaintance, and had a bit of insight.  The mutual acquaintance, let's call him Flute (it's a Shakespeare name, right!), was on the university senate while I was on it.  I didn't know him socially at the time, and the senate's pretty big.

Imagine, issue X would come up, and there was a practical option, which wasn't actually ideal in terms of students or adjuncts or something, but was practical in terms of cheapness and actual workability.  So, maybe it's class size for intro basketweaving, which would ideally be 15, but in practice runs at 20.  We can't afford 15, and 20 is pushing it in terms of the budget.

So there's discussion and going to be a vote.  And Flute would raise his hand, and I'd know he was going to say that there's no way we can vote for 20, and he'd go on to talk about the ethics of the issue and such.  I eventually realized that I pretty much always agreed ethically with Flute, but that I didn't want to hear about that because I felt like the cause was long lost and we were all going to vote for the cheaper or more "practical" option.  That is, in a way, I resented someone speaking for what I knew was right because I'd already given up on what was right.  And Flute isn't the most eloquent speaker; he's rough around the speaking edges, and takes longer than he should sometimes, because he feels so strongly about stuff and is so unwaveringly certain about his stance.

I don't think I was alone if not wanting to hear about what we should do because I don't think I was alone in having already given up.

Now, I think of some of the times in my department when I've felt compelled to speak against an issue because I think it's ethically important, and I could see other people in my department roll their eyes, and I think I've turned into Flute in some ways.  (I try not to take very long or hold things up, but I do feel compelled to speak sometimes.)

There's so many things around here that are ethically shady: big class sizes, use of adjuncts, lowering requirements for majors and such.  But we vote for them because we feel like we're trying to survive.  I think it hurts our morale more than we acknowledge.

And in some cases, I think it's devastating for our students.  I'm thinking of the ways racism works here, the ways that administrators talk around problems with racism and systemically support racism, all while claiming not to.

I went to a training session last week on "bias" which was pretty much what you'd expect: we're all biased and we need to think about biases we aren't so much aware of and consciously work against them. 

But what we should be talking about is racism and systemic racism on campus.  Talking about bias is patting white liberal folks on the head and saying that they don't want to be racist, so if they just work a little more, then we'll make things better.  And that way, we don't have to challenge the systemic racism or even acknowledge it.

(That isn't to say that I as a white person don't need to think about my racism and work towards anti-racism in my own behavior and beliefs.  But that's not enough, and not the big issue.)

Friday, January 15, 2016

On the Edge of Overwhelmed

I have so much to do!  The universal cry of people getting ready for the new semester!

I KNOW if I just get my rear in gear, I will get it done, but some of it's just really hard.  And some sort of painfully hard (prepping comp, because comp is just misery in our new program in some ways).

It's so cold out, and getting colder.  I see people out and about with scanty clothing and I want to shiver for them.

The exercise thing is working pretty well.  I'm trying to average about half an hour a day, working up to an hour or more.  (So far, most of my rides this past week have been an hour, but I've missed a couple of days for various reasons, which hurts the average.) 

I need to just make myself a list and get to work prepping. 

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Making a New Habit

That's what I'm working on this new year, and so far, okay.  The new habit is to exercise every day, and it's not that hard during break, so my goal is to get myself in the habit pretty well and then hope I can keep it going once classes start.

The thing is, I've already ridden my bike (on the trainer, so way quicker, but not as exciting) over 100 miles.  And that makes me think about how lazy I've been all fall not being on the trainer at all.  It's amazing to think that if I rode for just 10 miles a day (about 30-35 minutes on the trainer for me), I'd rack up 3000 plus miles for the year, no problem. 

My system to avoid utter boredom is to put on a bike race from last year (many are on youtube) and ride along for the last however many kilometers using earphones to hear the commentary over the trainer.  (They often don't start televising or youtubing the races until the last 30 kilometers.)  I've now worked up to just over an hour (20 miles), so mostly the timing works out pretty well.  If I need a bit more time, I watch the last few kilometers of another race. 

The key is, I have to not remember who won the race, so Paris-Roubaix is out, because that was very memorable for me.  But stages are really good because I tend not to remember who won the stage, even if I remember who won overall (the Giro, for example, will be good).  And most of the classics and monuments are good (those are one day races, often in spring or fall).

Today's stage is Stage 7 of the Dauphine, I think. 

The racing season has started in Australia and New Zealand (new national champions in both countries today/last night), but they're not available here, alas.

Wednesday, January 06, 2016

I Should be Happy About This

I worked on setting up a guest speaker for my Shakespeare class this spring, in conjunction with some theater classes.  The speaker's a director of a play in a Shakespeare Festival in a not so far off place.  He asked if we could pay travel, and I said I'd try.

On November 5th, I emailed the department chair, and she said to email this other person in the department who's on the funding committee, so I did, and he said he had a meeting and would check into it then.

Also on November 5th, I emailed the campus funding folks, the folks who fund special programs and such.  And never heard back.

And then I got buried in the usual stuff.

And this morning, at 11:30 or so, I heard back from the director of the campus funding folks, who said she'd just found my email, and oops, sorry, but I could try filling out a form, and if I get it filled out and through all the channels by Monday, then the funding folks can vote on it.

You know, administrator, if I didn't answer emails from an advisee or a colleague about some committee responsibility for two months, I'd feel some heat, I bet, if the student complained.  But I have no one to complain to, because this person controls the money.

So I started filling out the form, and looked up the stuff, and realized that I'd never heard back from my colleague on the department committee, so emailed him.  Then the form locked up, and I lost everything, and had to start over.  I did that on a different browser.  (We're all supposed to use browser X on campus, but everything works better with browser Y.  And if you have a pop up blocker, you're screwed.) 

Then I heard back from the department colleague that yes, the department should be able to cover the travel, but he couldn't remember about an honorarium.  So I should be really happy.  Instead, I'm frustrated and cranky.

So I finished up the form on a different browser, wrote my stupid narrative thingy, and submitted it.  Then I emailed the chair to alert her to the form thingy.  (It also has to go to a deanling who's now retired, but the form says it HAS to go to him, so I'm probably screwed by that, too.)

If EITHER the administrator OR my colleague had bothered to get back to me, I wouldn't have the rush hassle today. 

Lesson: I need to send emails continually to people until I get a response because they can't actually do their jobs without a cattle prod.

Tuesday, January 05, 2016

Reorganizing the Seminar?

I'm teaching a senior seminar on Race in/and early modern drama this spring, and spending some time looking at a variety of critical readings.  I've already ordered the plays, and have some documentary stuff ready to go.

Traditionally, I've organized senior seminars like this:

First few weeks: theory, criticism, then a play or lit text, historical texts

Second few weeks: more theory, criticism, plays!

Third few weeks: start students on research project, plays!

Final few weeks: lots of work on research project, a play or lit text

In some ways, this works really well.  reading theory/criticism early sets the agenda, and then we're well prepared to talk about plays.

BUT, because I start them on their research projects early (and they tend to write good projects as a result), they usually write their research projects on one of the texts we read in the second few weeks.

I'm wondering what would happen if we read some plays fast in the first few weeks, then in the second few weeks, read theory, criticism, other historical texts, and then in the third three weeks, go back to the plays in more depth, and such?

How do you organize courses when you want students to produce a strong research project at the end?

Sunday, January 03, 2016

Some Changes for the New Year

I got a smart phone.  Yes.  Thanks to my sibling and his son, who were upgrading theirs, my Mom and I both got smart phones.  Now she texts me good morning and good night, and maybe one during the day, and it seems very good.

A couple of months ago, I was talking to a friend who teaches stringed instruments here, and she was talking about teaching using the Suzuki method, and how people can learn to hear by training their ear and such.  The thing is, I've been wanting to do something creative, and something new, and something that involves learning.  And, I started mulling.  So I asked her, and I think I'm going to be taking violin lessons when she returns from break. 

Well, assuming I have a violin.  My Mom brought me my Dad's violin to use, and my friend, Strings, let's call her, suggested I get the bow checked because it probably needs new horsehair.  She suggested a place in town to ask, but said they usually charge more than they should, but for the new horsehair, it wouldn't be too outrageous.  They looked at the bow and the violin, and said the bow's got a crack, and so does the violin, and on and on.  They gave me an estimate, and I took the violin and bow home, and emailed Strings to ask her about the estimate, and if she trusted them to do the work.

Strings said the estimate sounded way too much, and gave me the name and number of her instrument person in the big city a couple hours away.  I'll call on Monday, and if possible, go see him with the violin, and see what can be done.  She said he's super, and she trusts him with her instrument.

But I'm excited, and a little daunted, all at once.

I've got a huge to-do list for the break, but I'm having trouble getting stuff done.  I think when I have some free time, I somehow think there will be plenty of it, and of course there never really is.

I just got James Shapiro's The Year of Lear in the mail, and I'm looking forward to it.  I really enjoyed 1599, and I'm guessing it's the same basic idea, a really deep exploration of the year and Shakespeare's work.  But there's so much else I should be reading in preparation for SAA and my classes!

Friday, January 01, 2016

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year!

From last year: Goal for 2015: good health and happiness, being a good friend, being a better teacher and colleague.

I think I did pretty well on those. 

Goal for 2015: good health and happiness, more biking, more time outdoors

Personal: I want to keep a budget; I think it will help me as I think about retirement.

The last year in review:

Biking: disappointing.  Lots of reasons, none of them good.  This past semester has been nearly exerciseless, and that needs to change.  I can really tell in how I feel.

Bike Odometer: 11531

2015: 738 (50 hours)
2014: 1022 miles (76 hours)
2013: 700 miles (52 hours)
2012: 1296 miles (89 hours)
2011: 460 miles (29 hours) (in UK from July to December)
2010: 1020 miles (66 hours)
2009: 2380 miles (166 hours)
2008: 1425 miles (97 hours) (in Japan from January to early June)
2007: 2011 miles* (There may have been more miles, before I started using the bike journal thingy, but I seem to have started using it in mid-May, so probably not tons of miles.)

Birding: The highlight of the year was a trip to see Kirtland's Warblers.  I saw, I heard, I was happy.  (May 16)

I also saw a Northern Mockingbird!

I had a Sharp-shinned Hawk in the yard!  (This is taken through the bathroom window with screen, so it looks soft-focused.)

And s/he had lunch.

I also saw my first grizzly bear!  (not a bird, but cool!)  At Yellowstone.  (Long distance, and cropped picture.  I find it best to keep my major predators a long ways away.)

A bison, also at Yellowstone
And the white thing in the center is a wolf, also at Yellowstone (other observers had a digiscope, but this is the best my camera can do).

Professional: I taught a new upper level Shakespeare course (Shakespeare and ecocriticism), a new intro to lit course (for me, anyway, all the writers were people of color, pretty much).

From last year: Goals for 2015: Finish two current projects, teach better

I have an essay coming out soon, and a book review.  (One of those is one of the projects I had listed, the other was a new project.  I still have the old project on my list.)

I'm chairing a program's curriculum committee, and I think we've done good work so far.

Goals for 2016: Teach a new senior seminar (race in/and early modern drama), revise the project from forever, write a good SAA paper.  Start working on a Winter's Tale paper I'm thinking about.

Garden:  I was a lot more realistic this year, and really enjoyed the garden.  I harvested four or five pumpkins, which are frozen mush in the freezer now, waiting to be baked into muffins or bread.

I have five artichokes inside, and my new bonsai tree, but the artichokes are looking iffy already.

All in all, what with the budget crisis around here, it was a tough year in some ways, and a very good year in others.